The Olympic athlete just helped break down a major taboo in the world of women's sports

By Kylie Gilbert
Updated: August 17, 2016
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You'd think that in 2016, a woman publicly acknowledging her reproductive system would hardly be newsworthy. Yet, even though periods are getting more play than ever (consider: tampon taxes are going down the drain, period panties are all the rage, and feminine hygiene commercials have finally admitted that most menstruating women aren't smiling, twirling goddesses in white dresses), it is still a taboo topic in the world of women's sports.

Despite how normalized periods have (rightfully) become-#livetweetyourperiod is a thing-so few elite athletes discuss how their periods affect their performance. When top women's British tennis player, Heather Watson, acknowleded that "girl things" interfered with her game during the 2015 Australian Open, it was groundbreaking.

But now the topic has come to the forefront again on the Olympic stage. After the women's 4x100-meter medley relay, where China narrowly missed a medal by 0.17 seconds, 20-year-old Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui (aka the most GIF-worthy swimmer in Rio) was "crouched behind a board, doubled over in pain," the BBC News reports.

"I didn't swim well enough this time," she told reporters when asked if she was OK. "My period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired-but this isn't a reason. I still didn't swim well enough," she said, apologizing to her teammates for her performance.

Fact: The first day of your period always sucks. And while the stakes may not be super high for most of us who need to skip a workout, it's a different story when it's one of the biggest moments of your career. (Related: What Your Period Means For Your Workout Schedule)

"The science on how menstruation affects sports performance is limited and mixed, but anecdotally, I have seen women who find they aren't performing at the same level when they're suffering from menstrual symptoms before and during their period," Liz Joy, M.D., a family and sports medicine physician who has treated elite female athletes told us in an interview.

While clearly not the best moment for Yuanjui, her willingness to openly discuss the rarely talked about issue seems to have sparked an overdue conversation in China about tampons, which are not widely used in the country. (In fact, China is just now launching their very first domestic tampon brand, more than 80 years after the tampon was introduced in the U.S.)

The good news is, if you're not going for gold, your time of the month doesn't necessarily have to derail you. Here, six ways to stop your period from affecting your performance.



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